Muskies, of all Things, From the Bank, of all Places

I dabbled in muskie fishing from that little front seat of a cabin-rental Lund in the Northwoods when I was young. Caught a few, and no trophies, but as time went on my pursuits in fishing changed from those early days of slinging Dardevles, Mepps Bucktails and Pikie Minnows, to where the ol’ muskies were no longer part of my “normal” excursions.

Fast-forward to just a few years back: I was chasing down some late-winter crappies and I set the hook on what turned out to be a 48-inch tiger muskie that had me jumping from rock to rock on a riprap shoreline with the stealth of what I can only compare to a three-legged mountain goat. Outgunned with a 6-foot, ultra-light spinning outfit, 1000 series reel, 4-pound-test line and a 2-inch swimbait, I somehow managed to work the drag and keep my cool through the battle to land the awesome specimen. I was stoked, and the once dormant obsession for muskies was on.

But if you do fish for muskies often, the obsession doesn’t need an explanation; either you have one or you don’t. For years at my friend Greg’s tackle shop, I’d walk the aisles of the tackle, always bypassing the smaller room that contained the beastly looking baits and even swore off muskies as a species that held no interest. Oh, I’d hear the “muskie freaks” talking about “pounders,” “Grandmas,” “Hell hounds,” and on occasion I’d even pick up a St. Croix with the action similar to that of a fence post, but I still always found comfort in my species of preference gear. It is quite the humbling experience, though, to be acquiring baits and tackle you once poked fun at—your fellow anglers are quick to remind you of your past comments.

But folks, I certainly will not claim to be a muskie expert in any way, as I’m still a work in progress when it comes to these fish. But five muskie rods and reels later and with an entire shelf on my tackle rack dedicated to these baits and hardware, I’m learning fast. And now that muskie fishing is a part of my regular angling, my twist on fishing these creatures can come from pursuing them from the bank. It’s not that I’m against using a boat—invites are always welcome—but my articles have been around advanced bank-fishing techniques, and my muskie encounters are to be no different.

Someone asked me about what kind of rig I was chasing muskies in. I replied, “A Silverado.”

They looked puzzled, asking, “Who makes that?” Uh…Chevy?

Didn’t quite hear the comments as they were walking away.

After hooking my muskie from the bank, my interest in pursuing these fish from dry land only increased. I want to share the bank-fishing techniques I’ve been using to catch muskies and to look at tackle I’ve tested from the bank.

For rods and reels, you can catch muskies on light gear and tackle, but this technique is not healthy for the fish. To land one on lighter tackle you must wear them down to the point of exhaustion. And depending on the water temperatures and oxygen levels, which vary at different times of the year, this can be catastrophic for such a large specimen. Some big fish can’t recover from such a battle. Also, light lines just won’t hold up with the teeth and the surges with which muskies are known for. While you might not think losing baits is a big deal, a bait left hooked in a fish’s mouth after a line break can often hinder its ability to feed and can starve it to death. So, for me, I’ve chosen all St. Croix Premier Musky Casting Rods, a couple of 8-footers and a couple at 8 feet, 6 inches. I also have been experimenting with a new 8-foot St. Croix Premier Musky Spinning Rod. My casting reels are Daiwa Lexa-HD 400XS-P with an 8.1:1 gear ratio and a Daiwa Lexa-HD 400H-P with 6.3:1 gearing. For my spinning outfit, I’m using the new Daiwa BG 5000 series. This is a big-water reel mainly used for saltwater, but so far it’s been an awesome rig. For line, I’m fishing a couple different types of braid, but haven’t quite yet settled on one. I’m running 80- to 100-pound-test line on all.

The next crucial link in the terminal tackle is a quality leader. Starting off, I wasn’t familiar with leaders. I grew up with steel leaders, and my local muskie experts directed me toward Stealth Tackle’s Fastach 14-inch 100-pound-test fluorocarbon leaders. I’ve been using them from the start—they are quality leaders, and there have been no issues.

Baits and line
Rather than just giving out some bank-fishing muskie bait suggestions, I felt integrating them with some location ideas would work. While you can use most baits from the shore or from a boat, some baits will serve you better for bank-busting muskies than others. I’m not naming all of them in my box, but I’ll toss out a few. One important concept to keep in mind when bank fishing for this species is that you are limited to the water in front of you, which usually is relatively shallow. I do fish lakes with quite a bit of open water, but as you end your retrieve, your bait is usually going to be quite shallow. Deep divers and heavy-sinking baits can be troublesome in these locations.

So, as you might’ve guessed, some favorite baits of mine are surface lures. On lakes, I’m looking for flats adjacent to some deeper water with some sparse weed patches or subsurface weeds. Muskies will search these areas for prey, feed, and then return back to their deep-water sanctuaries. I’m a huge fan of the River2Sea’s Whopper Plopper baits and I fish the smaller 130 Series in areas with small forage. I’ll use up to the 190 series when I know the forage is on the larger side. I’ll also use the old Arbogast Musky Jitterbug, which is still a great surface producer. Another favorite bait, though small, is Mann’s 1-Minus Wake Bait. If you’re still wondering why the aforementioned spinning rods are used for muskies, the Mann’s bait is why. With the spinning rod set up, even with heavy braid, I can easily cast smaller baits such as the Mann’s 1-Minus baits and other downsized baits, like Strike King’s KVD Square Bill 8.0, and one of my new favorites, Offshore Angler’s Lazer Eye Magnum Rattle Shad. (For the Rattle Shad, change the hooks. I bumped mine up to VMC’s 4X Strong 1/0 Treble Hooks, and that will not hinder the action. The 1 1/2-ounce Rattle Shad can cover a lot of water and is great as a search bait.)

A couple of other lighter baits I throw on the St. Croix spinning rods are one, Kalin’s 8-inch Octogambo Grub matched with Kalin’s Ultimate “S” Jig in the 1 1/2 ounces and a 7-foot Zoom’s Magnum Super Fluke rigged weightless with a 7/0 Mustad Big Game O’Shaughnessy hook. This is a large saltwater-grade hook, so there are no worries about it straightening out.

This is a small selection of baits for bank fishing the muskies, and if you’re a seasoned angler you may have more baits to throw into the ring. But if you are newer to the pursuit of this species, remember that sometimes fewer baits to choose from can be less overwhelming.

Hopefully, I’ve inspired a few of you to consider bank fishing for muskies. Once you’ve set out to intentionally pursue these awesome fish, you’ll be hooked and feel the obsession.